The Department of Health confirmed its 17th case of polio in the country. According to the agency, the latest case is a one-year-old boy from Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. The one-year-old suffered from fever and sudden onset of weakness on the lower limbs. Moreover, DOH revealed that samples from the Butuanon River in Cebu also tested positive for the dreaded poliovirus according to the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine.
It can be recalled that the first re-emergence of the disease occurred September last year and has since grown to 17. It can also be recalled that the disease was deemed eradicated for two decades until its recent reappearance.
Moreover, DOH will be implementing their drive for vaccinations from February 17 to March 1 in Mindanao and February 24 to March 8 in Metro Manila. The agency is also assisting Cabanatuan and Mandaue in the surveillance, identification, and reporting of incidents.
Why polio came back?
Prior to the resurgence of polio this year, the last case recorded was in 1993. In 2000, the entire country was declared polio free along with the rest of the Western Pacific Region. However, just recently, the Department of Health declared a polio outbreak.
The first recorded polio case this year was in Lanao del Sur – on a three-year-old female child. Also, sewage samples from Manila and Davao confirmed to contain the virus.
“We are very concerned that polioviruses are now circulating in Manila, Davao, and Lanao del Sur. WHO and UNICEF are working closely with the Department of Health to strengthen surveillance and swiftly respond to this outbreak. We urge all parents and caregivers of children under 5 years of age to have them vaccinated so that they are protected against polio for life,” states Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization Representative in the Philippines.
“It is deeply disconcerting that poliovirus has re-emerged in the Philippines after nearly two decades. The outbreak calls for urgent action to protect more children from being infected. It reminds us of the importance of increasing immunization coverage to 95% of children to stop polio virus transmission in the Philippines. Vaccination is the only and best protection against polio that mainly affects children under 5 years of age. As long as one single child remains infected, children across the country and even beyond are at risk of contracting polio. UNICEF is working with Department of Health and WHO to accelerate actions for the health and safety of children in the Philippines, especially in the affected regions,” states Oyun Dendevnorov, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, Representative in the Philippines.
The return of a long-gone disease was blamed on the steady decline of vaccination over the past years. In Davao, where a strain of the poliovirus was confirmed in waterways, attributed the return of the disease on the unsanitary environment, also on the low turnout of vaccination. The City Health Office confirmed that residents along riverbanks do not have toilets and open defecation is prevalent in congested areas.
Fear of vaccine in the 21st century
In an article by ABS CBN, it was stated that “the risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunization coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.” It can be recalled that a mass Dengvaxia vaccination took place in 2016. However, a botched rollout led to accusations that children have died after being vaccinated.
In a bid to control and eradicate the disease, the Department of Health spearheaded a polio immunization activity in Manila. Moreover, further immunizations will happen from October 2019. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, comprised of the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will be supporting the Philippine government’s initiative in eradicating polio. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative will provide support in terms of providing technical advice, on the ground monitoring, and risk communication.
“The polio outbreak is a wakeup call for the Philippines. We must act now to protect children against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases through immunization,” states Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization Representative in the Philippines.